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Learning to understand the big picture
Ana Wang
update on Saturday, October 23, 2010

Certified public accountants may have an undeserved reputation as "squares", when the best of the lot are actually well-rounded individuals who have the uncanny knack for seeing the forest for the trees.

It is this ability to make sense of the bigger picture from what appears as a bewildering mass of numbers and details that makes certified public accountants (CPAs) the ideal decision makers and business leaders.

CPAs help organisations by offering their professional expertise through critical thinking and judgment. However, it takes years to master these skills, so it is crucial for accountants to enhance their training and technical knowledge.

A handful of accounting training modules exists in Hong Kong, but the qualification programme (QP) - developed and operated by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) - has become the most popular because it mixes theories with practice. The institute recently organised the Career Forum 2010, aimed at introducing the examinations and providing insights to those considering taking the programme. The HKICPA revised the QP last month by improving the syllabus, and incorporating more information related to the mainland, Hong Kong's role as an international financial centre, and specific financial products.

"CPAs should be all-rounders," says Susanna Chiu, HKICPA council member and chairwoman of the Career Forum 2010 organising committee. "They should be able to display a full understanding of classroom knowledge and excellent people skills while working in a team and proposing creative ideas."

The institute's QP offers training in all these areas and aims to shape students into future business leaders. "QP is a good foundation for future development," Chiu says. "The qualification is globally recognised, so graduates are able to enjoy high mobility."

With its theoretical and practical approach, the QP encourages students to learn by participating in workshops that focus on case studies.

The programme is composed of four modules - financial reporting, corporate financing, business assurance and taxation. This allows students to grasp the essential skills of the profession.

The first module covers the principles and practices of financial reporting, allowing students to understand how financial reporting affects business activities, transactions and the preparation of financial statements.

Corporate financing, the focus of the second module, offers details of the course subject, introducing students to the analytical tools that businesses need to maximise corporate value, manage financial risks and make sound financial decisions.

The business assurance module teaches students the basics of assessing business risks and how to manage them, while meeting increasingly stringent internal controls and corporate governance. This part of the course explains how these factors impact management, assurance engagements and auditors' responsibilities. In the final module, students can learn more about the different taxation systems in Hong Kong and the mainland, enhancing their skills in identifying potential tax issues, assessing tax liabilities and providing tax advice for individuals and organisations.

Each module requires 120 hours of self-study, with a learning pack developed by the HKICPA, two full-day workshops led by experienced CPAs, and a three-hour open-book examination.

Students will be given an opportunity to tackle accounting cases with fellow students during the two-day workshops, with the guidance of workshop facilitators.

After completing the four modules and workshops, candidates are required to sit a six-hour examination to test their ability to combine the knowledge gained from all four modules so that they may be able to cope with real-world problems that can only be tackled using tools and ideas from a mix of practices.

To gain practical accounting experience and develop personal qualities and interpersonal skills, students have a chance to work under an authorised employer or supervisor.

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